“Why are we reading,
if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?”
—Annie Dillard, The Writer’s Life
Writing as Spiritual Practice
The journey to Truth has many paths. Certainly yoga is one of them. Ancient texts like the Yoga Vasistha, which has been dated from as early as the sixth century, tell us that all human beings long for moksa, the liberation that comes with the complete abandonment of mental conditioning, to experience the Truth of our own nature. Today, science, archeology, religion, spirituality, philosophy, psychology and art, in all their manifestations, continue to inquire into the questions of who am I, where have I come from, what’s going on here, what do I think about it, and what am I supposed to be doing? We quest, in infinite ways, pulled along by an instinctual longing, to more fully experience and express our aliveness during this brief “moment in the sun.”
The word yoga is a very big word, like the word love. In its simplest translation it means union, even more literally, to yoke together. Just what is being brought together depends on the type of yoga.
Classically, various types of yoga offer practices and disciplines for different aspects of our lives depending on our particular needs and tendencies – Hatha Yoga for the body, Raja Yoga for the intellect, Karma Yoga for our actions – the list continues, but the purpose is always the same. It is to have an experience of the Highest Truth about who we really are and then to practice living from that place. This concept of focusing various aspects of ourselves for the purpose of cultivating a deeper experience of our energetic union with everything, can perhaps be applied to almost anything. Indeed, when I Googled “The Yoga of…” the first page alone listed the yoga of: eating, time travel, knowledge, herbs, sound, kirtan, Christ and power.
Writing as yoga then, is a disciplined practice with the intention of leading us toward discovery. The discipline of simply sitting down regularly and keeping our butts in the chair to focus our attention on the page in front of us while letting go of all our other concerns, responsibilities and addictions is a yoga practice in itself – the yoga of not going to the refrigerator instead. But immersion in a writing practice can, over time, not only improve our writing and increase our sensory perception, it can also lead us to a timeless state of present moment awareness as well.
“Listen to the presences inside these poems, let them take you where they will.
Follow those private hints, and never leave the premises.”
Writing as a Tool for Self-Inquiry
Pen in hand, or at least near by, or computer screen in front of me, I use thinking as a means to lead me into the present moment. I often type into the computer with my eyes closed. This is not the same as meditation. It’s a focusing of my attention, a form of contemplation, perhaps on my breathing, or what I see in front of me, or the sounds I’m hearing. That focusing opens up a spaciousness that had previously been occupied by incessant thinking. People who practice meditation are familiar with the process of moving from witnessing what the thoughts are, to observing the impulse that gives rise to thought, what Eckhart Tolle calls The Presence, underneath it all. The process of observing what’s occurring in my mind without assessing or evaluating it, and then committing myself to that observation by writing it down, nudges me along that intangible route from vagueness to clarity.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, and other books on creative process, says that, “writing is a way to metabolize life”. Many other wonderful writers who write about writing, Natalie Goldberg, and Anne Lamott come to mind, recommend practicing writing for an allotted period of time, or on a specific word or thought, without taking the pen from the page, crossing out, erasing or considering whether it’s “good” writing or not. Get it down, edit later. I attended a Writer’s Conference in Alaska last year where Annie Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, was the keynote speaker. After her opening talk the unofficial theme of the conference became, “Shitty First Drafts”, from advice she gave on just getting the words down.
This kind of practice makes us more intrepid and instinctive as writers. While warming up, emptying the rattle of thoughts out onto the page, we may discover feelings, images, and memories that have been lurking about, random bits of conversation, dreams and sensory impressions that we weren’t aware of. If we are feeling brave, we have the option to follow along, like a treasure hunt with clues, to what’s underneath those first self-conscious outer layers to the stuff that’s harder to unwind, that we’re clinging to – sometimes for dear life – and that’s holding tightly on to us. This is the thinking that is keeping us in its grasp. Locked-up. This is where the adventure begins. The mind is very insistent and territorial. It doesn’t really like change, but out beyond its habitual stomping grounds is where the infinite creativity of the Universe hangs out. Even if we stop short of that, we have at least begun to tell our story, unraveling some of those binding threads and connecting them to the rest of the tribe.
“Purity does not lie in
separation from but in deeper penetration into the universe”
—Teilhard de Chardin
Writing for Connection
As a child, I loved the time right before bed when my parents read aloud to me, and later, when I read aloud to them. I would always beg for “just one more, just five minutes more”. I still do when my husband and I read together. This sacred ritual of contact is what I love about live theatre and also about holding a book in my hands and immersing myself in the land of the author. It’s about wanting to connect to something, some part that wants expression, humor maybe, or love, grief, or adventure.
As writers, it’s the same. It’s reaching in and reaching out, for contact. Sometimes people think of writers and writers think of themselves as solitary types. Yet, the page itself is potent in its constancy, almost always available, providing the intimacy often lacking in the midst of a crowd. The more we expand our mental boundaries, the more we can embrace a wider world. Giving our keen attention to anything, can provide us with a deeper understanding of its relationship to everything. Ask a child, ask a painter, ask a bird.
“Nothing on earth is more gladdening than knowing we must move back the boundaries of the humanly possible once more.”
Breathing and Writing as a Tool for Change
Transforming the formless into form is easier said than done. Our full participation is vital. To write well about anything, requires observation, and that requires our presence. The breath is the key to the doorways of both the body, and the mind. Without it we have access to neither. Focusing on the breath during any activity, including writing, keeps us in the present, the only place where anything ever happens.
The ancient yogic scriptures tell us that the practice of yoga, of yoking together action with the highest intention, repeatedly over time, holds within it the potential to take us beyond the limitations of our minds to a state where we have access to higher truths, deeper wisdom and intuitive understanding. It is the place where that experience can fuel our deepest desires to serve the creative flow of life.
“Writing is unique to every writer. Practicing writing is like practicing freedom.” —Seducing theDemon, Writing for My Life, Erica Jong
Writers in Community
If you’ve ever meditated with a thousand or so other people, say in an ashram or a meditation center, or been in a hundred person yoga class, you understand the increase of amplitude in what is essentially a solitary experience. It’s a kind of rock concert of personal immersion. In the silent sharing of our primary life forces, our breath, our physical presence, our conscious awareness, we often experience not only a deeper connection to ourselves, but a deep familial connection with every thing and every one else as well. So it is, or can be, with writers. We can come together in conferences, classes and writing groups to enliven, enhance, and expand our experiences and gain support for our intentions. The Yoga of Writing is about finding our voice and speaking our truths. It may be just for ourselves, or it may be about spreading our wings as wide as we can imagine. Either way, it’s about freedom. - cha
Written by Debra Lee Babcock, Spring 2009
Dr. Debra Babcock, writer, chiropractor and yoga teacher is the founder and director of Harmony Network Chiropractic and Yoga in Mashpee and the founder of the Heron’s Way Writers Circle. She can be reached through her website, www.harmonychiroyoga.com. More of her writing is available on her blog, www.harmonychiroyogadebra.blogspot.com